Faye Faire’s debut album is a tribute to a dearly departed band member and will play gig on Sunday to commemorate her passing

LIKE a star snuffed out before it could brilliantly stride across the night sky, local indie guitarist and singer-songwriter I-Shan Esther Christie Lee Vengadesan unexpectedly passed away one year ago, on June 16.

One of the founding members of the folk rock band Faye Faire, I-Shan’s death came out of the blue in what was supposed to be a big year for her. She was the daughter of journalist and musician Martin Vengadesan.

From the start of 2023, she had just turned 18 years old, acquired her driving licence, got inked with her first tattoo and she was in the midst of planning Faye Faire’s debut album with bandmate and co-founder Alena Nadia.

I-Shan’s unfortunate passing did not just knock the wind out of her family members, but also the band and those who knew her in the indie music scene, and like any death, it came with its own set of quandaries, particularly for the equally young band.

$!In My Mind was released in February. – PIC BY MAIRA ZAMRI

A fitting tribute

Faced with a great loss, Alena and the remaining band members unanimously decided to not pull the plug on Faye Faire. Instead, they forged on with the original plan to release the debut album as it was, according to Alena: “I-Shan’s only chance at having a legacy for people to remember her by”.

As the album was initially conceived while I-Shan was still around, it needed to be retooled after her passing. In effect, the album became less of an attempt to debut Faye Faire’s music, and instead rightfully morphed into a tribute to a band member’s premature departure.

“I suggested that we call (the album) In My Mind, after a line in her song I’m Still Alive. All of us, including I-Shan, at different times had mistakenly called that song In My Mind. Seeing the songs through that frame, the narrative was set quite naturally,” Alena explained.

“We were two young women observing the world around us and writing about what was on our minds, from the ups and downs of relationships to societal problems and grief.”

More than just an album made with her in mind, I-Shan is a constant presence in the entirety of In My Mind, as five of the album’s 10 songs were written and composed by her.

Painful reminders

Producing and recording the album in this manner led to the added inevitable challenge, where the band faced a hard reminder that I-Shan was no longer with them and the pain wrought by it.

“There were days where it just felt like we were having normal recording sessions, but whenever we got to her songs, especially tracks she sang on, it’s a reminder that she’s no longer with us,” revealed Isra Gomez, Faye Faire’s drummer and I-Shan’s childhood friend. He also says it is the reason he struggles to listen to the album.

“I can go a few weeks without thinking about I-Shan’s passing, but as soon as I hear her songs, it feels like a punch in the gut. I do think that having the album launch helped with our grief more.”

For Alena, creating the album gave her a passage to traverse through the choppy waters. As Alena had bits of lyrics and melodies that I-Shan had been working on, she had to sort through the collection of recordings that were sent to her since the girls started the band.

“It was painful but necessary to go through them. The recordings we had of I-Shan acted like a diary of our friendship, for me to look back on and cherish. It is something no one can take away from me,” explained Alena.

$!(From left) Faye Faire’s current line-up consists of Isra, Maira Zamri, Alena, Azim Zain and Tanuja Kaur. – PIC BY TINAGAREN RAMKUMAR

Upcoming gig

Though the album and the songs contained within hold a specific meaning for the band and those that supported the project, Alena says the songs, when played live, have taken on a life of their own in the minds of the listener.

“People at our shows have come up and told me how the lyrics of Siren’s chorus led them to the conclusion that I wrote it following I-Shan’s passing. I did not. I performed it with I-Shan and she even recorded her backing vocals on the tracks.

“It is definitely one of those tracks that has evolved in meaning and become more and more emotional to perform as time goes on,” she says contemplatively.

For the anniversary of I-Shan’s passing on Sunday, Faye Faire will be playing 4pm onwards at Sunda Shelves in Damansara Kim.